On the 30th of October, Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani had a meeting with a group of 22 at Delhi’s Madhya Pradesh Bhawan. Though this was the sixth meeting between her and RSS leaders in six months, that group was the largest to meet her. The guests represented 11 outfits of the RSS involved in education, who offered their suggestions to Irani over a six-hour meeting, with the understanding that there would be many such meetings in the days to come.
Nine days later, a former RSS pracharak, Ram Shankar Katheria of Agra, joined Irani as Minister of State, HRD.
The Sangh’s “role” in the Narendra Modi government may now be no more than a matter of academic debate, but a sphere where it is more or less settled is education. It is also one area where Modi’s “development agenda”, both when he was chief minister of Gujarat and now in the Prime Minister’s chair, is quite at peace with the Sangh’s.
To interact with the government and the BJP, the RSS has divided its frontal organisations into six groups, namely Arthik Samooh, Sewa Samooh, Shiksha Samooh, Suraksha Samooh, Jan Samooh and Vichar Samooh.
The 11 outfits that met Irani are part of the ‘Shiksha Samooh’, and vary in scale, ambition and spread. The shortlisting of 11 “liaisons” from them, to be in constant touch with the minister, was just an indication of the kind of broad policy-level changes the RSS wants, though things may have got off on the wrong foot. RSS functionaries have been irked by Irani’s “indecisiveness”.
“Several appointments are delayed,” said a representative who attended the October 30 meeting. “We have offered Irani possible names for some posts but she did not show enthusiasm.”
The choice of Katheria as MoS is being seen as dictated by the RSS, to advise Irani on “Sangh interests” and to keep her “in tune” with them. However, Katheria’s start too has been wobbly, shadowed by the charge that he forged his graduation marksheet.
Irani has stressed several times that a new education policy is in the works. At an RSS function in Varanasi last week, she said that the new policy would be announced next year.
Her most controversial move so far has been the decision to discontinue German as third language in Kendriya Vidyalaya schools. The board of governors of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan led by Irani announced that Central schools could only offer a Indian language, especially Sanskrit, as third language. Interestingly, the organisation fighting this cause, the Sanskrit Shikshak Sangh, is not affiliated to the RSS but patronised by former Congress MP Mahabal Mishra.
On December 13-14, RSS-affiliated organisations will hold a national-level seminar on the “recommendations, implementation and relevance of education commissions since Independence”, in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh. Topics such as autonomy of educational institutions, value-based education, science and spirituality, examination system, teachers’ training and research are on the agenda.
A similar conclave was held in Jaipur in September to discuss “Regulatory mechanism in higher education”. The three-day World Hindu Congress in Delhi that ends Sunday had a separate conference on ‘Hindu education’, with around 300 delegates.
Sources said that recommendations emerging from these conferences would be part of the new education policy.
At the October 30 meeting with Irani, sources added, RSS sahsarkaryawah Suresh Soni had cautioned that during NDA I, there was little work done but “lot of propaganda”. “This time we have to do a lot of work so please keep yourself away from propaganda,” he reportedly said.
At the meeting, RSS leaders suggested that history taught in schools introduce more Indian heroes, particularly from the south, rather than what “the West wants India to learn”.
The 11 outfits guiding the RSS agenda have a long list of demands, covering all that the Sangh feels strongly about. While most of these demands deal with school education, which is largely dealt by states and where the Centre controls little, the RSS appears to believe that’s only a temporary impediment given the BJP’s growing spread.
While a way to put their stamp on education could be through the NCERT and CBSE — as textbooks prepared by the NCERT are adopted by several boards — here too, Irani is dragging her feet. While the NCERT director’s post that fell vacant last month is yet to be filled, the UPA-appointed CBSE chairman has not been replaced.
The RSS expects to find the going smoother in higher education though — something it has never managed before. And that’s by appointing its own people to key positions, such as vice-chancellors of universities, directors of IITs, IIMs, IIITs, and heads and members of other bodies controlled by the Centre.
While here too there is a delay, it’s because of hectic lobbying by different groups. For instance, sources said, Irani had recommended a name for vice-chancellor of a Sanskrit university but a powerful BJP leader recently appointed Cabinet minister had stalled it.
With the BJP in such a commanding position for the first time, there are many “bahut purane swayamsewaks (old RSS members)” jostling for postings. Consequently, IITs in Patna, Bhubaneswar and Jabalpur are headless, chairmen of many PPP-mode IIITs are yet to be appointed, and Ranchi, Lucknow and Kozhikode IIMs have no directors. Vice-chancellors of many central universities, including BHU, have not been appointed either. Several National Institutes of Technology too don’t have chairmen. All these posts have fallen vacant in the past few months.
A hint of the coming changes is visible in BJP-ruled states, including the newly-won Haryana and Maharashtra. Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar, an RSS man and a former teacher, has announced a consultative committee that is likely to be headed by the controversial Dinanath Batra to “guide the teaching community” and to plan a new curriculum for schools. The state’s Education Minister, Ram Bilas Sharma, once worked as a teacher with Batra.
The state government has also scrapped all literary academies constituted by the previous government, and vetoed revisions proposed by it in textbooks of the State Council for Education, Research and Training. “The new government will ensure that education is culture-based,” says Sharma.
In Maharashtra, the changes have been slower coming, though both RSS and ABVP activists have been demanding revised curriculum and new NCERT textbooks, keeping in mind “Indian values”.
Gajanan Sanap, a Senate member at Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University in Aurangabad, who has written to the government seeking a revision in textbooks, says they want the roles played by Shivaji, Veer Savarkar, Mahatma Jyotirao Phule and Shahuji Maharaj in history to be highlighted. “Students not just in Maharashtra but across the country should know about their contribution,” Sanap says. “If children lack Indian values, why would they work for our country? They would choose other countries.”
In Rajasthan, across universities, vice-chancellors appointed by the previous Congress government are feeling the pressure as RSS nominees nudge their way in. Recently, the exit of Dr Dev Swarup from Rajasthan University kicked up a storm after he complained of excessive RSS interference and non-cooperation in running of the university. The search committee to pick his successor is headed by an RSS-backed vice-chancellor, Kailash Sodhnani.
Two members of Rajasthan University’s Syndicate are part of the RSS-backed Akhil Bhartiya Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh.
While the RSS would like to speed up the process of appointments to more top posts at varsities, the process is so far sluggish. Sources say Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje refuses to give the RSS a free run in the state.
In Madhya Pradesh, though the BJP is now into its third successive term in government, the RSS is playing it safe since the MPPEB scam. Names of the late RSS chief K S Sudarshan, senior functionary Suresh Soni and a couple of local office-bearers had done the rounds in the case. Soni has since been replaced and one functionary spent time in jail before being released on bail.
Earlier, soon after the BJP first came to power in the state, there were changes in the school curriculum such as reducing the space devoted to Akbar for that to Shivaji, but none recently. An RSS trust’s book for children that was made compulsory reading in primary schools had to be withdrawn after objections.
The talk of introducing Gita in the school curriculum predates Modi as PM.
Neighbouring Chhattisgarh, however, has almost completely escaped saffronisation of education. There are several reasons for this, including the state’s largely tolerant character, the fact that the RSS is not sufficiently embedded in the state, and that the BJP has rarely intruded in affairs of religion and education here.
Also, ever since the formation of the Modi government, CM Raman Singh has been hit by several crises, including the current one over sterilisation deaths. Most of the energies of the party and RSS have been directed towards battling these crises and saving Singh.
In Modi’s own state and the crucible of his governance experiments, Dinanath Batra has found a warm embrace. In July, the State School Textbook Board published nine books, eight of them authored by Batra, to be introduced as supplementary literature in more than 42,000 government primary and secondary schools. These were distributed free to all schools.
The same month, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat held a meeting with vice-chancellors of prestigious state universities, including Gujarat University, M S University and Veer Narmad South Gujarat University. The V-Cs admitted interacting on various education-related issues.
Education is expected to figure high on the agenda of a three-day meeting of RSS workers in January in Ahmedabad. Organisers have said a number of students above the age of 13, who are “active members”, will participate in the mega show.
At the Centre, what may prove more difficult in meeting the demands of the RSS outfits — including an increase in funding, opening of new institutions and appointment of more teachers — is lack of budgetary support.
At a meeting held on November 13, sources said, Department of Expenditure officials clearly told the HRD Ministry about a cut in planned budgetary allocation by around Rs 11,500 crore. While around Rs 4,000 crore would be slashed from the budget for Higher and Technical Education, School and Secondary Education would lose a major chunk (around Rs 7,500 crore).
However, the RSS is prepared to take it slow. A senior functionary who has attended meetings with Irani said they understand that putting in place a new education system based on Sangh thinking would be “time consuming”.
“Several changes will be needed in statutes,” he said. “We are not in a hurry.”
— (with ENS inputs)
RSS affiliates in constant touch with HRD
Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad
Established in 1949, ABVP is now the country’s leading student organisation. Over two dozen RSS pracharaks are involved with it, including organising secretary Sunil Ambekar. Since the RSS currently does not do much work in higher education, the ABVP is its foot in the door. Among the ABVP’s demands to Irani are increased funding for universities, setting up of an Indian Education Development Bank, and student union elections in all colleges.
Established in 1952, the Vidya Bharati runs over 13,500 schools across the country, as ‘Saraswati Shishu Mandir (up to Class V)’ and ‘Saraswati Vidya Mandir (VI to XII)’, and around 70 colleges. Over 50 RSS pracharaks are deputed to run it, including Brahmdeo Sharma ‘Bhaiji’ and Shiv Kumar. While most of the syllabus is in line with the boards the schools are affiliated with, a ‘Sansktriti Gyan Pariksha’ judges children on Indian history and culture. Says its website, “Revival of Hindu philosophy is the beall and endall of our educational renaissance.”
Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojna
Originally set up as Apte Smarak Samiti, it took this name in 1993. Among its prime projects is rewriting Indian history based on the Puranas and Upanishads. RSS pracharak Balmukund Pande is organising secretary.
Akhil Bharatiya Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh
Led by RSS pracharak Mahendra Kapur, it claims to have over 8 lakh teachers as members among government-run and government-aided schools, as well as “influence” in 130 universities. Kapur worked as ‘vibhag pracharak (divisional head)’ of the RSS before starting this teachers’ association 10 years ago. The RSS-linked conclave held in Jaipur in September in which regulatory mechanisms in education were discussed was organised by it. At its meetings with Irani, the outfit has submitted 17 demands related to primary, secondary and higher education.
Shiksha Bachao Andolan
Started in July 2004 by Dinanath Batra, who earlier worked with Vidya Bharati. Now more known for ensuring pulping of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, after which his star has been ascendant in practically all BJP-ruled states, Batra was earlier better known for starting and running the Sangh’s first ever school, Geeta Vidyalaya, which was set up in Kurukshetra in 1946. The Shiksha Bachao Andolan claims to have forced many “corrections” in school textbooks.
Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas
Dinanath Batra is the chairman of this outfit too, established in 2007, while RSS pracharak Atul Kothari is its secretary. This RSS affiliate promotes teaching of Indian values and runs campaigns urging people to send children to schools where the medium of education is the local mother tongue. “There must be a balance between science and spirituality and Indian values must be incorporated into education,” says Kothari.
Started initially by scientists associated with the RSS at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, it later became formally instituted as the Vigyan Bharati or Vibha in 1991 in Nagpur. It has units registered under different names in different states. RSS pracharaks Jayant Sahasrabudhdhe and Jaya Kumar work with it. Vibha claims to have 5,000 members, “over 3,500 of them scientists” and the others working in the field of science. Earlier this month, it held a ‘Swadeshi Science Congress’ in Malappuram, Kerala.
It was started in 1981 in Bangalore by the late RSS pracharak Ajit, as a “Speak Sanskrit Movement”. It took on its current name in 1995. Samskrita Bharati is now managed by Dinesh Kamath and Sireesh Devpujari, both RSS pracharaks.
Bhartiya Shikshan Mandal
Established in 1969, the Mandal claims to be spread over 220 districts in 22 states. Its main motive is “Formulation of an education system based on guru-shishya tradition”, and it works primarily among university teachers.
Akhil Bhartiya Sahitya Parishad
Established in 1966 for “uplifting Indian literature and Indian languages”, it is managed by two RSS pracharaks, with Shridhar Paradkar as organising secretary. Paradkar claims to have 107 units in 21 states, and says they work in “every Indian language” and target “literary people”.
Established in 1981, Sanskar Bharti works in the field of art and culture. It is currently headed by a non-pracharak, Ganesh Rode, while RSS pracharak Ameer Chand is the joint organising secretary. Last year, Sanskar Bharti organised a programme called ‘Sarhad ko Salaam’ in the Northeast. Sanskar Bharti claims to have units in every state except Mizoram, and patrons of its activities in the Northeast include Pandit Jasraj and Lata Mangeshkar. Says Ameer Chand, “We work among artists. This field is not for conflicts and clashes.”